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Green by design

The headquarters of Rock Hill’s operations facility were a bit cramped. Parking was limited for employees and visitors. Some employees had their offices in closets, while other offices were shared by two or three people. The building’s infrastructure could not support the modern technology needed to deliver efficient service to residents.

To address these issues, the city built a new Operations Center on a 45-acre site to house its approximately 270 utilities, public works, purchasing/fleet, and parks, recreation and tourism employees. City officials carefully planned the $32 million facility, using many sustainable features that will allow it to continue to serve residents efficiently for years to come, according to Assistant City Manager Jimmy Bagley.

 

Exterior of Rock Hill Operations Center
 The Rock Hill Operations Center consists of three main buildings and more than 150,000 square feet of covered space. (Photo courtesy of the City of Rock Hill)
 
Rock Hill’s Operations Center consists of three main buildings plus large vehicle sheds, vehicle wash, storage and covered materials building. There is more than 150,000 square feet of covered space with some 425 parking spaces. The site features rain gardens that capture and filter runoff water before it enters the stormwater system. The roofs use a solar reflective white paint that reduces heat build-up within the buildings. Plumbing fixtures are low-flow and are outfitted with automatic sensors.

 

Roof of Rock Hill Operations Center
The roofs use a solar reflective, white paint that reduces heat build-up within the buildings. (Photo courtesy of the City of Rock Hill)
 
Construction materials were selected for their high recycled and recyclable content, such as recycled glass tiles in the restrooms and recyclable carpet tiles. The paints, sealants and carpeting reduce indoor air pollution through their low-emission of volatile organic compounds. Wood products came from sustainably harvested, North American trees.

In addition, the city gave special attention to using local and regional suppliers and contractors. Significant quantities of building materials were manufactured within the southeast region, reducing transportation energy. More than 70 percent of the project costs were paid to businesses within a 30 mile radius, with more than 25 percent spent in Rock Hill. Having most of the workforce and supplies provided locally was a stimulus to the economy, Bagley said.

In 2010, Rock Hill received the first “Greenest Fleet Award” given by the Palmetto State Clean Fuels Coalition. To expand the initiative, the Operations Center fuel station added more alternative fuels, electric charging stations and compressed natural gas. The CNG and electric charging stations are available for public use 24 hours a day.

The city worked with professionals accredited in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. Although the facility does have many LEED features, the city did not seek LEED certification. Bagley said the city couldn’t justify costs that didn’t have a 10-year payback.

Sustainable buildings like Rock Hill’s facility are part of a growing movement. The U.S. Green Building Council developed its internationally recognized green building certification system, LEED, in 2000. LEED establishes a framework for identifying and implementing green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

While LEED is the most readily identified green certification system, a few others exist. The Green Building Initiative has its Green Globes guidance and assessment program that offers ways to improve the overall environmental performance and sustainability of commercial buildings. Also, the U.S. Green Building Council has been working with several groups, including the American Institute of Architects and American Society for Testing and Materials International to develop an International Green Construction Code.

LEED is a benchmark and sets the bar for what a green building is, but it was not written to be a building code. This is why USGBC and AIA became involved with the International Green Construction Code, said Keith Sanders, an AIA member and owner of Keith Sanders Architecture and Consulting in Columbia.

Other green building movements include the Living Building Challenge, an advocacy platform and certification program that seeks to promote the most advanced measurement of sustainability. Net Zero building involves the ultimate goal of a building being completely “off the grid” - producing its own energy or purchasing green power. Also the Architecture 2030 Challenge asks the global architecture and construction community to adopt greenhouse gas reduction targets for new and renovated buildings, with the final goal of carbon neutrality for all new buildings by 2030.

While many of these movements target new construction, opportunity exists for renovating existing buildings or historic ones with green standards, Sanders said.

In fact, “we can make the biggest impact by updating and improving our existing building stock,” Sanders added.

Cities can help by renovating existing buildings to LEED standards and by offering incentives for green building, Sanders suggested.

 

Although “green” is a buzzword these days, achieving sustainability on a large scale is still far off. There has been some concern that green building materials are untested and pose a liability risk. But industry experts like Sanders say the greater risk is in not moving forward with the growth of energy efficient, sustainable building.

 

Another concern involves higher costs, which was what Rock Hill encountered. Yet Sanders said that it doesn’t cost much more for construction projects to meet lower levels of LEED certification, although he acknowledged that achieving higher levels of LEED certification can be pricier.

Meanwhile, in Rock Hill, employees are settling into their new home, and the formal ribbon cutting for their new operations center was November 1. It is fitting that the opening of the new, modern Operations Center coincides with the 100th anniversary of Rock Hill Utilities and its celebration of  “100 Years of Progress.”